Yesterday’s message …
- Was designed to be the second in the series but due to all the upheaval with Coronavirus, was delivered first;
- Dug deeply into Hebrews 9, not a typical “Palm Sunday” text;
- Mentioned Brittney Spearks, Whitesnake, and Led Zeppelin;
- Was a message in the Wesleyan “holiness” tradition … without using either of those words;
- Landed at this bottom line: We settle for forgiveness OF sin while Jesus offers freedom FROM it.
So here is something that I’m pretty sure I know about a whole lot of you. Here it is. You have these things you do, these habits you have, these patterns you’ve developed … and they drive you crazy. But you keep doing them anyway. You remember that Britney Spears’ song from yesteryear, OOOPS I DID IT AGAIN?? And there you go … you DID IT AGAIN. You didn’t WANT to, you don’t LIKE it, but there you are again. Ooops!
I don’t know exactly where it is for you. I remember as a kid I went through this phase of doing this odd twisting thing with my fingers. It would sort of render me motionless because all my attention was focused on this weirdness. Used to make my dad so mad! But for you, maybe it’s chewing the fingernails & your mom told you not to when you were a kid and you tried to stop but every once in awhile now that you’re an adult, there your fingertips are, right by your mouth. You hate it but it’s so comforting. Or for others here it’s that driving distracted. You have the checkered driving record to prove it – and the high insurance rates – but next time you’re driving you’re on the phone or dialed into a podcast and OOOOPS you did it again! Another fender bender.
For others, maybe it’s escalated from that. A handful of you it has to do with nicotine, either the kind you smoke or the kind you dip. You hate it but you can’t stop it. Others react to stress by eating, you respond to good news by drinking, you find odd contentment in cutting and a strange satisfaction in bingeing. You love it, you hate it, you can’t stop it. And then I know there’s even more, whether it has to do with online addiction, gambling compulsion, or even chronic stepping out on your mate. And every one of you has been like, “That’s IT! I’m never doing it again!” And that lasts a week, a month, a year, and there you go. Oooops you did it again.
And for most of us the primary desire in the middle of a self-destructive streak like this – a streak that, c’mon, makes us feel DIRTY – is to be real with God and GET FORGIVEN. We’ve heard that Xnty has a good deal when it comes to forgiveness of sins. I mean, other religions you have to do all kinds of frightening stuff – maybe throw your first child in the Ganges River like some expressions of Hinduism or turn yourself into a martyr like some elements of Islam. And it is kind of comforting to know that in Xnty, with Jesus on the cross, he does for you what you could never do for yourself, namely, pay the price for your sin. Your substitute in self-destruction. And the thought that EVEN FOR SERIOUS STUFF like the affairs, the drugging, the lying you can get your SLATE WIPED CLEAN (do it?) – that is very, very appealing. Good news.
Until. Until. Oooops, you do it again. And you may have been forgiven and that slate may have been wiped clean but considering you just did it all over again (even though you hate it!), you’re sure he hasn’t forgotten and your conscience is all torn up over it. You’ve wondered more than once: does forgiveness run out if the sin doesn’t?
Which in this second week of How Much More brings us to a fascinating section in the book of Hebrews, a NT book with an OT sounding name. And we are fixing to look at a section that talks about that which is so odd and foreign and alien it is tempting to skim right over it to get to the easier stuff. But if we do that, we miss the really good news; we miss the uncanny ways God works in history. Because the author of Hebrews (and we don’t know who) brilliantly sets up a history designed to show that in Jesus the shadow has been replaced by the real and the approximate by the authentic and it has EVERYTHING to do with the habits, compulsions, and consciences that keep bringing us down. Let me show you what I mean.
Look at 9:1-5:
Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
So know this: all the imagery the author uses was completely familiar terrain to his audience. We look at it as outsiders; the people this author preached to would have been nodding at the common ground from the first word. He describes Jewish worship rituals and do so using code words and phrases that BAM they automatically got. Like if you Americans heard this (GRUNT FOOTBALL SOUND EFFECT) or saw this (AV REF SHOWING TOUCHDOWN), you’d know: football game. It’s a common national ritual. A visitor here from Indonesia would NOT get those clues on their first day in this country. So in Heb 9 WE’RE the Indonesians looking in at ritual and code we have to work t get. But when you DO get it and see what the author is doing … ahhh, it has everything to do with that self-destructive streak that’s killing us.
So in this section I just read, their Worship Center had an outer room (lobby?!) and inner sanctum (Green Room!). Everyone was barred from entering that inner sanctum except the high priests, and even he could only go in one year and that was with fear and trembling. I love the last sentence of 9:5 because the preacher is giving us the very details he said he can’t give!
Now at 9:6-7 it gets good:
6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.
Once a year – but every year – the high priest dressed in elaborate robes, slits the throat of a bull, catches the blood in a basin (Seminary in those days was less about bible study and more about slaughterhouse technique), and carries it into the Most Holy Place where he lights incense and offers it to God. That’s to cover HIS sin. Then he does the same thing with the blood of a goat. That’s to cover THE PEOPLE’S sin. It was elaborate, delicate, and ANNUAL. The concept? The blood of goats and bulls – ANIMALS – given up to cover the sin of the people. To wipe that slate clean! It had staying power of a year before you had to do it again. These days we know it as Yom Kippur … the Day Of Atonement. It was gross, bizarre, it made the custodial costs on their WC through the roof – blood! – but that’s the way it was. By the way, now you know what that religious sounding word – COVENANT – literally means CUT IN BLOOD. So it was!
Yet look at 9:10 –
10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
The impact, the “efficacy” of this system? Limited. Surface level. Cleans the slate but no power to prevent the slate getting dirty again over the next twelve months. Which is why at 9:11 EVERYTHING CHANGES:
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,[a] he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.
“But when Christ came …” How? 9:12 tells us:
12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption.
Not the blood of bulls and goats but his own. And not every year but once for all years. Because, again, 9:13 reminds us that the sacrifice of these animals – sorry if you have a fondness for bulls and goats – only touches on the surface of what we need. Might get you forgiven for a year but no enduring, cleansing power to deal with all your self-destruction, all your OOOPS I DID IT AGAIN-ness: 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.
Then it culminates in 9:14:
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!
Ah! How much more! Do you know the difference? It’s in the value of the thing given! Bulls and goats? Meh. The Son of God? TA-DAAA! They’re not even in the same league! It’s like this (flashlight) and this (Tesla). Both are electric products. Which has greater value? Or this (Cessna) or this (747). Which has greater value? Or this (Whitesnake) or this (Led Zeppelin). Which has greater value? The approximation or the authentic? The pretender or the real? Because Jesus’ blood – the highest, greatest, perfect-est gift God could give! – is of infinite value, the power it then gives us who are washed in it is beyond measure. And only when you lean on the authentic do you have the power not just of forgiveness but of freedom. Here it is, here is the HOW MUCH MORE of Jesus: We settle for forgiveness OF sin but Jesus offers freedom FROM it.
Because notice what Hebrews 9:14 addresses … our consciences. Acts that lead to death … AKA self-destruction … AKA OOOPS I DID IT AGAIN. Have you ever thought of it this way? The best way to have a clean conscience is NOT to do all that self-destructive stuff to begin with? Instead of having to wipe the slate clean every week or month or year … how about it never gets dirty in the first place? And the only way there is placing yourself under the blood of Jesus – the totality of his sacrifice that renews and empowers. It’s not about greater effort. It’s not about white knuckling. It’s about deeper trust. It’s about understanding that because this blood is the most valuable gift ever given, it comes with the greatest power ever poured out. He bled out so you’d be filled up.
We settle for forgiveness OF sin but Jesus offers freedom FROM it.
This really makes me think of what they call “Dry Drunks.” If you’re not in AA or haven’t been to 12 Step Meetings, you might not know what it is. A “Dry Drunk” is an alcoholic who is not drinking (so they are technically sober) but also not living in recovery. They are reluctant in their sobriety and completely missing out on the serenity. They “white knuckle” their way through another day of not drinking … and often make everyone around them miserable in the process. That’s like Hebrews 9:10! But Hebrews 9:14 – the HOW MUCH MORE! – ah, that’s when Jesus’ blood and the program of recovery penetrates so far beneath the surface that you don’t drink NOT BECAUSE IT IS FORBIDDEN BUT BECAUSE WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO SPOIL THE GOOD LIFE YOU HAVE! Sobriety and serenity and peace are SO GOOD that the lure of alcohol fades away. It works the same if your compulsion is shopping or eating or cheating … once Jesus gives you freedom and you go to bed at night with a CLEAN CONSCIENCE, then why in the world would you want to live any other way? Instead of having to clean your slate you just get to admire how empty it is of all the stuff that used to kill you from the inside out! Because he bled out so you’d be filled up. Whyt settle for less when you can have so much more?
We settle for forgiveness OF sin but Jesus offers freedom FROM it.
And in my time, I have seen it break through. It begins with forgiveness and it moves to freedom and it is beautiful. The woman declared forgiven for a season of earlier promiscuity now giving herself without reservation to her husband. Why stray with this God designed and God breathed relationship is so good? She never has to sneak, to lie, to be exhausted by her sin. She is exhilarated by her obedience! Or the woman who had cut herself from adolescence on suddenly realize “I am a blood bought daughter of the king. He was cut for me; why would I cut myself?” REFRAIN. Or even the guy who, yeah, had wasted years not in the bottle but on weed. Embraced his forgiveness and realized the best alternative to weed’s “chill” was the serenity that comes from Jesus and Jesus alone. Jesus is real, he says, I didn’t have a marijuana problem; I had a marijuana solution, and now I know what’s real I’m not going back.
We settle for forgiveness OF sin but Jesus offers freedom FROM it.
For some of you this might involve treatment, for others 12 steps, for others a counselor, but FOR ALL OF YOU, do you know what it requires? The understanding that it’s time to stop settling for the approximate and begin serving the authentic. Realizing that his blood, HIS BLOOD, really does speak a better word
I’ve told some of you before of the time a few years ago that I was on a team interviewing potential candidates for Methodist ministry. And one of our candidates, kind of a whippersnapper, said, “We need to move beyond atonement theory,” which was sort of his way of saying that we have evolved past the stage where we need a bloody Savior; we’ve matured to the point that we don’t need a Substitute for our self-destruction. And I thought to myself “such baloney” (though a couple of other words involving an “s” and a “b” might have crossed my mind as well).
Well, that meeting happened on a Monday. That same week — THE SAME ONE — involved a Saturday gathering of Charlotte church leaders from all across the denominational spectrum. Methodists (me, at least), Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Elevators, non denoms … everyone. And the meeting started with singing. And what song did we begin with? Ha! “Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus”!!
Which meeting do you think had more spunk and more spirit? The one where someone suggested we’re too modern to need an atoning sacrifice? Or the one where we collectively celebrated that nothing but the blood, the real blood, of our Savior can save us from us?
We’re gonna sing that “Nothing But The Blood” right now …